Cuba, part V: The best tobacco… in the world

The legend is that US President John F Kennedy told his adviser to order one thousand Cuban Upmann cigars just one day before signing the Cuban embargo into a law. Hypocritical? Perhaps. But if that legend is true, it shows the enormous influence this magnificent tobacco has had on people throughout history.

I have to admit, Cuban tobacco was one of the things that actually lured me to Cuba. The incredible pure tobacco smell, the strong and tasty smoke that tingles your senses actually makes one think that this is “healthy” tobacco. And tell you the truth, it probably is much healthier than the crap sold elsewhere, as this tobacco is grown in near-perfect circumstances and the effort put in producing the cigars and cigarettes is reflected in the dedication of tobacco-makers and the fact that cigar-rollers are among the highest-paid people in this “workers’ paradise”.

Who wouldn’t know cigar brands like Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo… Even the most tobacco-ignorant people know that Cohiba is probably the best cigar in the known universe. And it really is as good as they say it is!

Tobacco is grown all over Cuba. Most plantations are located in Pinar del Rio province in western Cuba, and also around Santa Clara and Trinidad area in central and southern parts of the country. When travelling around these regions, one can see huge fields of tobacco and thousands of huts that are used to cure the tobacco leaves before they’re sent to factories.

The curing process takes up to 45 days, depending on the climate and the desired colour and type of the leaf. When you smell a tobacco plant, you’ll notice that it doesn’t smell of anything. The leaf starts smelling only after curing and fermenting it, and on fermentation depends the exact flavour, aroma and its burning qualities.

In the factories specialist perform quality control on the tobacco leaves and pick the ones that are to be used in cigars, dismissing the faulty ones. The leaves are divided into fillers, wrappers and burners. Some cigars have only two types of leaves in them; some, the best and the most expensive ones may have for example three burner leaves, one filler and a wrapper. The best quality cigars can cost up to US$20 even in Cuba—imagine how much they cost elsewhere. It would be better to visit the 180 Smoke Canadian vape store and buy one of them to save money.

People wanting to become cigar rollers must learn for nine months to become professionals. And even then they spend years working on lower-grade cigars before becoming the best and being entrusted with the most high-end cigar brands.

All rolling is done by hand by tens of people in a factory. Rolling one cigar takes about 5-10 minutes, after which the cigar is put into a press that gives it a perfect form. After forming, the cigars are fine-tuned, rough edges cut and the rollers put final touches on them. Then the cigars move to yet another department where specialists are performing quality control on them, and the cigars that don’t match the tough quality requirements are again dismissed.

Another department puts labels on those tasty tobacco sticks and yet another department carefully places them into boxes. Then the boxes are sealed and ready for sale.

We visited the Partagas cigar factory in central Havana, where unfortunately taking photos is forbidden. But if you happen to go to Cuba, it’s essential to visit one of the cigar factories. They say Partagas is one of the best to visit, but there are many factories elsewhere. And even if you don’t smoke, it’s still an experience! Visit this website to get your very first smoke experience!

Tobacco plants growing near Viñales.

Tobacco plants growing near Viñales.

The curing process starts outdoors...

The curing process starts outdoors…

...and is later moved indoors into small huts.

…and is later moved indoors into small huts.

Blossoming tobacco plants.

Blossoming tobacco plants.

Probably the best and the most well-known Cuban cigar brand—Cohiba.

Probably the best and the most well-known Cuban cigar brand—Cohiba.

Cohiba cigars are produced in many cigar factories in Cuba. "Fake" Cohibas are also produced in Dominican Republic.

Cohiba cigars are produced in many cigar factories in Cuba. “Fake” Cohibas are also produced in Dominican Republic.

Another famous brand is Romeo y Julieta, Sir Winston Churchill's favourite.

Another famous brand is Romeo y Julieta, Sir Winston Churchill’s favourite.

Montecristo is yet another famous brand of Cuban cigars.

Montecristo is yet another famous brand of Cuban cigars.

Cigarettes are produced from leftover cigar tobacco, but the taste is still absolutely magnificent.

Cigarettes are produced from leftover cigar tobacco, but the taste is still absolutely magnificent.

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